In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced that Italy has been paying armed groups in Libya to cease smuggling migrants into the country. Some estimate that the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Italy has reduced by half compared to the same time period last year. At the heart of the issue is a governance vacuum that allows armed groups to control the flow of migrants in and out of Libya, presenting a unique challenge for governments in North and West Africa and EU policymakers.
Illegal gold exchanges between the global North and South are fuelling violence and exploitation, but most consumers are oblivious.
While the violence and exploitation associated with the illegal diamond trade is now widely known, there is far less global awareness of the violence associated with gold extraction. In 2014, an investigative journalism piece documented the illegal gold exchanges between some South American countries and those in the global North—on the one side Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, and on the other Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Falkland Islands, Panama, and several European countries. This report found that not only does illegal gold mining adversely affect a country’s tax revenues, it is also directly related to human trafficking—particularly of children—and the perpetuation of conflict by funding armed groups.
While mining in general creates various problems (e.g., contamination of water sources, displacement of local populations), these problems are magnified when mineral extraction is done outside the legal regulatory framework. At this point it is necessary to make a distinction between illegal and informal mining because these tend to be confused. The first cannot be formalized due to certain characteristics (for instance, it violates environmental laws or has unsafe labour conditions) that lead to criminal mining. Informal mining, however, is defined by the lack of legal mining titles and often can be formalized eventually. The problem with illegal mining is that the lack of mining titles facilitates gold trafficking.
What is striking about this list is that each menace is transnational in nature. What does this mean?
For one: as this assessment by the Swiss authorities indicates, police work is no longer the strictly domestic affair it once was. As a result, international cooperation has become a first-order concern for national law-enforcement organizations. And this can be very difficult in practice. Take, for example, the fight against the mafia in Italy and Switzerland — two countries which, though neighbors, have different legal regimes and requirements for due process.
It is clear that more efforts are needed to properly track criminal activity across borders. In this day and age, the police’s concerns cannot remain theirs alone. Everyone dealing with or talking about security should take heed of this annual report and perhaps even adjust their own priorities.
On Sunday, 5 December 2010, Pope Benedict XVI called on the world to pray for “the victims of traffickers and criminals, such as the drama of the hostages, Eritreans and of other nationalities, in the Sinai desert”. By doing so, he lifted the lid on years of international indifference to the plight of the refugees fleeing from the East African chaos northwards towards safety. Shortly thereafter, the Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) bolstered the papal call with a well-researched report showing that African refugees in Sinai are habitually tortured, assaulted, raped and held for ransom by smugglers hired to bring them through Egypt’s desert.
As a consequence of a number of ongoing human-rights crises in the Horn of Africa, the Sinai has turned into a major center for people trafficking. On their search for safety, the refugees become easy prey to agents of Bedouin traffickers who promise access to Israel via Egypt. Since 2007, the Sinai Bedouins have thus developed a well-established, sizable, and highly organized trafficking network. However, in addition to smuggling people across borders for money, the Bedouins in the Sinai habitually abuse the migrants under their control and hold them for ransom.
The traffickers hold the asylum seekers hostage in various locations across the Egyptian peninsula for weeks or months until their relatives pay thousands of dollars to secure their release. In order to exact those payments the traffickers hold the refugees in steel containers, depriving them of food and water. The defenseless Africans are tortured with hot irons, electric shocks, or whippings. Women are separated from the men, detained in secluded rooms, and subjected to repeated sexual abuse and rape at the hands of their captors. According to the PHR report, many migrants were abused in one or more of these ways every two to three days – sometimes for months – until the demanded money arrived.
Yet even the migrants who finally do find their way over the border into Israel find no safe haven.
According to the latest statistics at least 12 million people are caught in the cycle of human trafficking. Based on data from selected European countries, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says that 95 percent of the victims have also experienced physical or sexual violence.
If these stats aren’t depressing enough, the OSCE also says that prosecutions of trafficking cases have been at a standstill since 2001.
In the latest edition of ISN Podcasts, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Eva Biaudet discusses how the Organization is tackling trafficking, our theme for this week, and the role the EU should play.
- The Somaly Mam Foundation is highlighted in our IR Directory, along with Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (ASEFIP).
- We’re also featuring three partners involved in the fight against human trafficking: Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL), Cimera and of course the OSCE.